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Tuesday, February 26, 2013



Virtual babies for Birmingham schoolgirls as they get a lesson in motherhood

Acocks Green school pupils given lifelike dolls in need of feeding, changing, sleep and all-round care. 

Parent-training dolls await their new 'mums' at Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School
What’s it like juggling homework with a screaming baby, countless nappy changes and no sleep? Education Correspondent Kat Keogh finds out how one city school is giving their pupils a taste of teenage parenthood – with the help of a virtual baby.
For most teenagers, their life is a whirlwind of homework, school discos, first kisses and social media.
But for hundreds of schoolgirls the carefree years are dramatically cut short as they fall pregnant.
Latest figures from the city council reveal there were more than 700 teenage pregnancies across Birmingham during 2011.
In Acocks Green, some 31 girls aged 15-17 became pregnant – one of the highest numbers of any city ward.
But one local school which is doing its bit to give pupils a lesson in the realities of parenthood is Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School.
Earlier this month, the Acocks Green school took a special delivery of 30 “virtual babies”; life-like dolls which are programmed to cry, sleep and wet their nappies.


The 7lb dolls are far from dummies, and mimic the behaviour of a young baby in needing to be fed, burped, changed, rocked and cared for.
A group of 30 girls signed up to the challenge of taking care of their own infant for three days.
An electronic chip records everything that happens to the baby while in the pupil’s care – whether they well looked after or not. The girls suffered sleepless nights and saw their social lives take a back seat as their doll demanded round the clock care.
Gayle Wattrus, head of health and social care at Archbishop Ilsley, said the project was designed to show how caring for a baby is a full-time job.
“The aim of the programme is to enable our young people to learn from experience what it is means to become a parent,” she said of the scheme, which is now in its fourth year at the school.
“This unique weekend gives our young people a real eye opener of how hard it is to be a parent, especially a working parent and allows them to make informed choices about their future.
“We don’t want to put them off having children, but this is about showing them how difficult it would be to have a child to look after at their age, and the huge responsibility which goes with being a teenage parent.”
Among those who signed up to the scheme was sixth form student Hannah Jackson.
The 17-year-old was able to leave her doll in a special “virtual baby crèche” while she attended lessons, but had to enlist the help of her family to help her look after the tot over the weekend.

Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School pupils with their dolls
  Hannah also revealed people reacted differently to her with a child in tow, and how she even took a taxi to school to avoid comments from bus passengers.
“I was on the bus with a pushchair and the baby in it that I realised I was getting strange looks,” she said.
“One woman on the bus turned round and asked me how old the baby was. I had to explain it was not a real baby, but a robot baby and the reason for having it.
“She then laughed and said that I did look a bit young to have a baby.”
The virtual babies have now been sent back the manufacturer, which will download a “care report” to show how the pupils fared.
All pupils, and their families, have also completed evaluation forms on how they found the experience.
“We find the experience has on the girls’ families too.
“It promotes discussions in the family which they might not have had before about teenage pregnancy.
“But perhaps the biggest lesson of all is just how difficult it is to look after a baby, and still be a teenager who goes to school and enjoying a social life.”

Archbishop Ilsley Catholic school pupils Tegan Kelly (14) and Hannah Jackson (17) with their dolls

My baby diary

by Archbishop Ilsley School pupil Tegan Kelly, aged 14.
• Thursday 5pm
My baby has just been activated. It’s been amazing, so far so good.
At the present moment it looks like it’s just having a nice sleep, hopefully she isn’t a fussy baby.
• Friday 12am
Really can’t believe my baby is awake and crying so loudly this time of the morning because it wants a long feed – I can’t even keep my eyes open!
• Friday 4.30am
My attempt at sleep didn’t work whatsoever and the feeling I have school today, which makes me feel even worse.
I want sleep please!
• Friday 5.30am
Might as well get up and get the baby dressed, because I know she isn’t going to sleep.
As I was getting her dressed she looked so nice. I put her hat and coat on so I could get ready for school myself, but that didn’t happen.
She started crying and I presumed it was a nappy change so I had to take all her clothes off, but when I put her new nappy on she still kept crying.
• Friday 3pm
Just picked my baby up from the crèche – here’s where the nightmare begins.
Getting a lift home from school because I’m not getting on public transport with this fake baby.
• Friday 4.30pm
Trying to get ready to go to my youth group and my baby is crying again for absolutely nothing, why can’t it be quiet for just ten minutes?
• Friday 9pm
Just got home from my youth group, what a crazy night.
The baby played up the entire night and didn’t stop crying. Felt like it wanted to drink a whole cow and didn’t burp for what felt like years.
I’m going to bed very tired tonight.
• Saturday 7am
My baby is up and dressed, it has had a bottle and has been burped. I just might get myself a cup of tea and relax before she starts crying again.
• Saturday 12pm
My baby is starting to get even better. She went to sleep at 10am and slept for two hours until now, that did me good.
My mum has kindly made me a full cooked breakfast. The baby isn’t even crying, I can’t hear a peep out of her.

Training doll strapped in for a walk

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


These Women Collect and Care for Baby Dolls. It's Not as Weird as I First Thought.

When I clicked through a New York Times slide show of Rebecca Martinez’s arresting photographs of the “Reborn” subculture—a group of mostly women who collect or create and “care for” incredibly life-like baby dolls—my initial reaction was, “these women are bananas.” Martinez’s subjects are photographed clutching the dolls to their breasts, holding bottles up to their pursed lips, nuzzling their little plastic heads, all with the tender, tired facial expressions familiar from mothers of real, live newborns.
But after I talked to Martinez, I was able to understand, at least to some degree, and respect the motivations of these women, whom she describes as having “a very strong desire to nurture.” All of Martinez’s work deals with “illusionary objects” that fulfill emotional, spiritual or psychological needs. She’s done a series of photographs of artificial crime scenes and recreations of plane crashes, which provoke extreme responses, but none so visceral as her Reborn photographs.  Those babies are “the most powerful objects I’ve ever worked with,” Martinez says, because they’re so realistic. They not only look, but feel, very much like living infants.
The “Reborn” women she photographed have a range of reasons for embracing this unusual hobby, Martinez says. Some never had children and wished they did; some merely love caring for newborns, and want to have some access to that feeling after they’re past reproducing; some are just doll enthusiasts who appreciate the artistry of the infant dolls. One woman Martinez photographed was a prison guard by day, and by night, she made babies. Another woman is a former Playboy bunny who now runs a nursery.

A third, who became a friend of Martinez’s, “spent her whole life nurturing and taking care of her two disabled parents, and then when she got older, she became a midwife, and birthed hundreds of real babies, and adopted children, many children, children who were not very adoptable,” Martinez explains. “She became a Reborn artist because she just had so much love to give.”
There are three parts to Martinez’s series, which she’s named “pre.Tenders,” and the New York Times only showed the section that documents Reborn conventions, where women in the community get together to share their babies and buy new ones. Martinez also took photographs of people outside the community reacting to the life-like dolls. And finally she took photographs of actresses, notably Carrie Fisher, interacting with the dolls. Another actress, Donna Vivino, was moved to dress up like a ’50s housewife and put the baby in the oven like a roast—a literal interpretation of the oft-expressed emotion, “that baby is so cute I just want to eat him up.”

 I have a cute newborn of my own, which I assume is part of why I had such an intense reaction to Martinez’s photographs at first glance. I love my child, but I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to pantomime the more laborious parts of baby care without the satisfaction that comes from raising another human. Martinez showed me the flip side. “They’re idealized babies,” so there is no diaper changing, she said. She also pointed out that while the babies’ limbs move around, their expressions are fixed. Martinez sent me a photograph of a woman who has a reborn that is always laughing, and she’s laughing along with it. There is a pure human joy there, one that defies facile judgment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Motherhood, Reborn and Everlasting


original article can be found  HERE

February 19, 2013, 5:00 am

Motherhood, Reborn and Everlasting

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Former Manhattanville doll factory has half-century past in neighborhood

While its 131st Street factory put out its final doll last year, the Madame Alexander brand is still well-known around the country and has deep connections to the Manhattanville community.
By Kimberly Shen and Hallie Nell Swanson
Columbia Daily Spectator
Published February 12, 2013

On an upper floor of a Columbia building in Manhattanville, a factory put out a steady stream of lifelike, detailed dolls for decades.
Founded in 1923, the Madame Alexander Doll Company moved to Columbia’s Studebaker Building, on 131st Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue, in the ’50s.
But while the 131st Street factory put out its final doll last year, the Madame Alexander brand is still well-known around the country. The company relocated to 34th Street in October, a move motivated by a merger with the Kahn Lucas Lancaster children’s clothing company.
“We wanted to be closer to Kahn Lucas,” Alexander Doll Company President Gale Jarvis said. “We have adjusted just fine. We like where we were then and we like where we are now.”
Before its relocation, the company had deep ties to Harlem. In the mid-1950s, the company moved to Harlem’s manufacturing neighborhood in pursuit of cheaper rents. It found a home in the Studebaker Building, one of the few buildings on Columbia’s Manhattanville campus that the University is preserving during its current expansion.
During difficult times in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the company stayed in the area largely out of loyalty to its employees, many of whom lived within two miles of the factory.
Madame Alexander had a strong community connection in an area of high unemployment. The skill set the factory required was most easily found in the inner city, with many employees from the Dominican Republic having learned to sew before coming to New York.
Increasing popularity made the company one of the largest private employers in Harlem during the 1990s, when it had about 600 employees, according to the New York State Urban Development Corporation. The site also included a Heritage Gallery of old dolls and a doll hospital for dolls under repair.
However, the factory became increasingly isolated as the Manhattanville manufacturing district declined and nearby buildings were vacated.
The company was sold in 1988 to two New York businessmen after founder Beatrice Alexander suffered a serious heart attack. In 1991 the company planned to move the factory to 155th Street, but the plan fell through because it failed to attract the financial backing needed. Madame Alexander finally merged with Kahn Lucas in 2012.
The iconic dolls were known for their elaborate detail, including hair that could be styled, detailed eyelashes and knuckles, and eyes that opened and closed. In 1963, the franchise expanded to include designer clothes for the dolls, created by Alexander herself.
Judy Ishayik, the manager of the city’s oldest continuously operating toy store (Mary Arnold Toys, on Lexington Avenue between 72nd and 73rd streets), said that “the detail that Madame Alexander puts into their dolls is really amazing.”
“They are really sweet—you can tell just by looking at them that they’re great quality. They have such pretty faces, the accessories are really appealing,” Ishayik said. “Sometimes little girls come in looking at the display cases we have Madame Alexander in and start their own collections that day, the dolls are just so beautiful.”
Alexander, the late founder of the company, was the daughter of a Russian émigré. She grew up playing in her father’s Manhattan doll hospital—the first in America.
Alexander’s forceful personality left a lasting legacy on the company, which prided itself on quality and exclusivity. According to a 1994 New York Times article, when asked her opinion of Cabbage Patch Dolls, Alexander had responded, “If you spend a million dollars on advertising, you can sell manure.”
In keeping with Alexander’s emphasis on quality, her dolls have increasingly become collectors’ items rather than playthings. A new doll costs on average $85, though at auctions, buyers pay as much as $10,000.
There is a strong community of Madame Alexander enthusiasts, connected by the Internet and the Madame Alexander Doll Club, based in Manhattan. The collectors are primarily middle-aged women.
Ishayik said that what she has come to expect from the dolls hasn’t changed since the company moved downtown.
“They haven’t changed anything. It’s just that the company has changed hands. The quality is still the same, the service is getting better after initial changeover adjustments,” Ishayik said.
“We have customers who come in specifically looking for Madame Alexander,” she said. “Either they have collections, or had them when the were younger, or are starting one for their children.”
An earlier version of this story stated that Studebaker is the only building on the Manhattanville campus that the University is preserving in its expansion. It is actually one of the few buildings being preserved.